Phaidon creative director Julia Hasting on spectacular new book Akademie X
A few weeks back, an enormous book the colour of a tube of Love Hearts landed on my desk. It was Akademie X: Lessons in Life an Art. Not often does a book look this succulent: the weight, texture and little details were enough to have the whole editorial team cooing over it. Published by Phaidon, it’s a collection of lessons written by artists such a Miranda July, Katharina Grosse, Walead Beshty, Marina Abramovic, Tim Rollins, John Stezaker and many others.
Spectacular original content aside, what makes this book truly sing is its design. It’s got that exciting, fresh new stationery feel to it: the card casing taking you back to those document wallets you used in school. The way the text is laid out is also reminiscent of lessons, and learning: it’s like a really, really concise bundle of research for a prize winning project. On top of that, each artist has been drawn in charming, pencil crayon portraits by the designer herself and the creative director of Phaidon Press, Julia Hasting.
For more than a decade, award-winning Julia has been designing dozens of award-winning titles on art, architecture, photography, design, and cooking, and – since the year 2000 – art directed hundreds of titles for Phaidon. She has also been a contributing illustrator to The New York Times since 2003. Such a beautiful new book deserves some more in-depth explanation, so here’s Julia on the process of putting together such an appealing publication merging art and design in holy union.
How did Akademie X come into your life?
As the creative director of Phaidon Press I suggest the designers for future titles on the upcoming seasonal publication lists. I usually choose whether to commission a designer or design agency for a specific title or whether to design the book myself. This new title was on the list and given its complexity and my interest in the subject matter I chose to take the project on personally.
The book idea was originated by one of the commissioning editors, and the editorial development of such a project is an ongoing process. My involvement in such projects is frequently more than just design concept and layout as there are a lot of conceptual alignments between the editorial part and the design. Even something like the title of the book has to work well with the design concept (in this case, I named the book — Akademie X).
“The book operates like a student’s personal lessons folder, with the collected images and texts from each tutor assembled in a string-closed cardboard binder. The overall aesthetic—materials, typography, colours, and structure—is inspired by office filing folders.” Julia Hasting
What did you reference in terms of the design? Can you take us through the process of making this book look as amazing as it does?
My design concept is an open format collection of illustrated lessons in art, philosophy, and life by 36 world famous “tutors” teaching at Akademie X. The book operates like a student’s personal lessons folder, with the collected images and texts from each tutor assembled in a string-closed cardboard binder. The overall aesthetic—materials, typography, colours, and structure—is inspired by office filing folders, although the individual nature of each lesson invited different styles.
The sample artworks by the tutors as well as the images relevant to each lesson are treated as if glued directly into the binder’s colour coded pages (each tutor has its own specific background colour). The collected texts by the curators (which I chose to feature in a wide range of different typefaces to communicate the different styles of the source materials) are also presented as if directly attached to the binder’s pages. Biographies are treated as filled-in charts and are accompanied by loose, almost doodle-like portraits that the student might have created during each lesson while listening to the tutor.
It’s rare for a creative to be commissioned to design and illustrate in the book – how did you end up doing both things?
I chose to do the illustrations myself because the style I envisioned for them had to fit exactly the overall design concept that I had developed. I illustrate and sketch a lot and as illustration is one of my passions I decided to create the drawings myself. If there was a specific style of illustration I needed for this project I could have commissioned someone else to do that. But my idea of an imaginary “art student” making straightforward sketches of her tutors into her lesson binder fit my own doodling habits.
I had first considered the use of photography for the artists’ portraits but sketches fitted the overall design concept much better, as they feel more personal and open and create a better contrast to the artworks and lessons that are featured.
“All artists were carefully chosen by Phaidon editors for their specific expertise, knowledge and personal philosophy on art and life. Each of these 36 ‘tutors’ has provided a unique lesson that aims to provoke, inspire and stimulate.” Julia Hasting
Tell us about the artists in Akademie X, why you chose them, and what the book aims to do?
All artists were carefully chosen by Phaidon editors for their specific expertise, knowledge and personal philosophy on art and life. Each of these 36 “‘tutors” has provided a unique lesson that aims to provoke, inspire and stimulate. Lively, entertaining and poignant, the contributors draw on their extensive experience in the contemporary art world, to share previously untold stories and identify the crucial things they wish they’d known at the start of their careers.
Their advice ranges from practical considerations about making art and managing professional relationships, to ideological perspectives on the nature of learning and the state of art education in the twenty-first century. Many also propose “assignments” to spark creative thinking and the entries are illustrated with visually compelling art works to engage and inspire the reader.
Who would you like to enjoy this book?
Aspiring arts professionals, everyone with an interest in the lives of artists, anyone with an interest in art, culture and education in art.